WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden traveled a historic route by train to arrive at Washington's Union Station last night, beginning the nation's four-day inaugural celebration.
Mr. Obama greets a city that is expecting about 2 million people to witness his swearing-in at noon on Tuesday as the country's first African-American president.
Elected in November over Republican John McCain in a victory that included carrying Ohio by a comfortable margin, the Democratic president-elect will place his hand on a Bible used by fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln in 1861 when the nation was on the verge of the Civil War.
"Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast," Mr. Obama told a huge crowd gathered at one of his stops. "An economy that is faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely. A planet that is warming from our unsustainable dependence on oil.
"There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disap-pointments," he said, "and we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."
While talking about the future, Mr. Obama reflected on the past, echoing the words of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln, and President John F. Kennedy. He cited the founding fathers who risked all with no guarantee of success in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776:
"They were willing to put all they were and all they had on the line - their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor - for a set of ideals that continue to light the world: that we are equal. That our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come not from our laws, but from our Maker. And that a government of, by, and for the people can endure."
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, boarded the train in the morning in Philadelphia to start retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took to his inauguration in Washington in 1861.
CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP Enlarge
The Obamas stopped in Wilmington, Del., to pick up Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, a familiar routine for that state's former U.S. senator who commuted regularly to Washington by train for 36 years.
Mr. Obama's inaugural theme, "A New Birth of Freedom," is a phrase taken from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the slow train ride evoked President Lincoln, whose 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed the millions of African-Americans who were in slavery in the southern states.
Mr. Obama - the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas - was born in Hawaii in 1961.
He worked as a community organizer in Chicago, graduated from Harvard law school with honors, and returned to Chicago where he was elected to the state senate and then to the U.S. Senate four years ago.
Between then and now, Mr. Obama has captivated a nation with his oratory, his call for change, and the hope that he can help America regain its standing in the world and find its way to better economic times at home.
After the stop in Baltimore, his train traveled slowly to Washington as he and Mr. Biden, standing on an outside rear platform, waved to thousands of people waiting in the cold to catch a glimpse of the man they have placed so much hope in.
In his weekly radio address yesterday, Mr. Obama vowed to have "the most open and accessible inauguration in history."
Small crowds of people milled outside the west front of the Capitol to look at the platform yesterday while workers strung power cables.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said she'll open her office in the Rayburn Building to receive visitors from the 9th Congressional District.
"We don't know what we can do. The crowds are expected to be huge. We will do our best to receive them," Miss Kaptur said.
She said the enormous interest in the inauguration is a result of Mr. Obama being the first Democratic president in eight years and the first biracial president. "I think people want a better future for their country and they want to express themselves through their presence. It's a very patriotic and beautiful spirit that is pervading this inauguration," Miss Kaptur said.
Among those in Washington, or expecting arrive by Sunday night, are busloads of students from Toledo's Notre Dame Academy and St. Frances de Sales High School. Notre Dame social studies teacher Matt McEwen is updating an online log of his observations that can be read at www.twitter.com/mrmcewen.
About noon yesterday, he wrote, "We just made a stop off the Penn. Turnpike - almost everyone I talked to is going to D.C. They were all very excited."
A bus carrying 44 students participating in the Toledo Excel Program scholarship program was to leave today at 6 a.m. from UT's Bancroft Street campus.
Kristine Moore, 17, of Rogers High School, received help from her North Toledo Church Charity Missionary Baptist to raise her $350 share of the cost of the Toledo Excel trip.
"I'm very excited to be going because it is history. After 43 presidents, we have an African-American that has been elected to the office. Not many 17-year-olds have that privilege to go to a presidential inauguration," Kristine said. "I feel like I'm going to be a part of history."
The group hopes to take in tonight's free concert and celebration on the National Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Denzel Washington, Beyonce Knowles, and others.
Perrysburg residents Ann and Mike Studer are bringing three children and will stay in Gettysburg, Pa., about 75 miles north. Their plan is to catch the Metro at a terminus in Shady Grove, Md., and claim some seats for the long slow ride downtown.
"I don't think this will be like anything we have seen, crowdwise," said Mrs. Studer, whose family has been to other Washington events, including President Bush's 2005 inauguration.
State Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), a member of Ohio's official legislative delegation, will help host a reception tomorrow of Hungarian-American organizations in honor of the 44th president and vice president.
"As a naturalized American citizen it's going to be a particular honor to be able to do that," said Mr. Ujvagi, whose family fled Communist Hungary in 1956.
Mr. Ujvagi said Mr. Obama's African heritage appeals to people who are immigrants.
Among Lucas County Democrats expected to be at the inauguration are Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who will fly in and out on Tuesday, spokesman Jason Webber said; Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz; Toledo school board President Steve Steel; Peter Gerken, president of the Lucas County commissioners; Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, and Toledo City Councilman Michael Ashford.
Also attending will be Jim Ruvolo, former state Democratic chairman from Ottawa Hills. He planned to arrive at the Mayflower by last night, to be followed tomorrow by his wife, Jane. "Everybody's thinking the worst, but it's never the worst," he said. "[D.C.] will handle it; they're used to crowds. If you end up walking the 10 blocks, big deal."
Having attended the 1993 inauguration of Democrat Bill Clinton, he says the mood is different.
"There's a real sense of relief and rebirth and I think that's different than anything I've seen before. Even though the economy wasn't great in '92 it wasn't like it is today, and we weren't in two wars," he said. "You didn't have the depth of feeling against the current administration."
Sunday night's free concert on the Mall will start the official inaugural activities. Mr. and Mrs. Obama are encouraging people to engage in community service projects tomorrow in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, which is celebrated tomorrow. The first couple-to-be will be first guests at a free concert for the children of military families at Verizon Center. The concert features Miley Cyrus, among others.
The swearing-in will take place on the west side of the Capitol a few minutes before noon on Tuesday, followed by the traditional parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
That night will feature 10 official balls. Ohio will be part of the Midwestern Ball. The new president and first lady are to attend every ball.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
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President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden traveled a historic route by train to arrive at Washington's Union Station last night, beginning the nation's four-day inaugural celebration. Mr. Obama greets a city that is expecting about 2 million people to witness his swearing-in at noon on Tuesday as the country's first African-American president.